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129 | Breaking The Glass Ceiling With Liz

Jonathan and Brad talk to Liz from Chief Mom about working moms building a career from the ground up.

The inspiration for this conversation came from a listener who wrote:

“I’m new here and a lot of the numbers I see people throw around intimidate me. Not the goal numbers. I’m talking about the incomes, the really high incomes. I’m a mom and I’m the breadwinner for my family. And I would be beside myself if I even made half of what the people in this group are actually making. I’m debt-free but I’m really trying to figure out what that next step should be.”

Liz: Chief Mom Officer

As the breadwinner for her family, Liz has built a career from scratch. Although she started her working career earning just $22,000 a year, she made intentional choices that lead to a six-figure career. Plus, her family of five is now well on their path to Financial Independence.

Today, she will walk us through her replicable steps to a six-figure career. Check out her article about that here.

Liz’s Journey

Without a college degree, Liz started working in a call center for $22,000 a year for a large company. At that point, a six-figure salary was an impossible dream.

She knew that she did not want to work at the call center forever. So, her first step was to get an education. She took advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement plan to mostly fund her college degree. Liz started at a community college and then transitioned to Central Connecticut State University to finish her degree in accounting.

Right before she finished her degree, she landed a job in the IT department of her company with a pay increase to $35,000. With this whopping 50% increase, she felt extremely happy and even though she didn’t know it at the time, she was actually underpaid, she gratefully took advantage of the opportunity.

After her BS degree, she decided to pursue an MBA through another tuition assistance plan. Now, she has worked her way up to a six-figure salary in a solid career.

How To Grow Your Salary

Liz shares her best advice on growing your salary to seemingly unreachable heights. Liz shares that it is not a “quick and easy scheme”, however, it is very doable. To reach your goals it will require hard work, determination, and intentionally leveraging your skills.

Get An Education

The first step to increasing your salary is to build up your educational credentials. If you can, take advantage of a company tuition reimbursement policy. Through this program, Liz was able to have most of her college paid for and cash flow the rest of her degree without taking out any loans.

[Educational assistance] is like a 401k match except an educational match. You put in the work, they put in the money.

Most large companies have reimbursement policies for education. For example, companies such as UPS, Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts have educational assistance programs. However, the stipulations vary by company. Many require that the degree is something that could help the company. Other companies require that you stay at their company for a specified period of time after you receive your degree.

Here’s a list of 10 companies that offer educational assistance programs.

It is not impossible to pursue a degree while working full-time. Liz is living proof of that. She took full credit loads each semester, but still worked her eight-hour shifts at the call center each day before class.

If you choose to go to community college for some part of your degree, then make sure to research your classes carefully so there are no surprises when it comes to which classes and credits count towards your major at the university level.

You have to do your homework and make sure that the courses you are taking in community college will transfer [to the University] and that they will transfer as credits towards your major.

Community college can be almost half of what a four-year school costs. Those savings are worth looking into even if you have tuition assistance from your company.

Liz didn’t qualify for financial aid through the FAFSA or through her school, so she did not receive other grants or loans. Paying for college with her salary, for the portion not covered by her employer, she graduated with no debt, no loans.

Also, check out the tax credits that reward people for going to school. You may qualify for the American Opportunity tax credit or the Lifetime Learning credit. With these, you could save a lot of money in taxes.

Find Examples Of People Before You

Although the internet was not quite as full of stories back then, Liz still sought out stories of successful women in business through magazines and books. With that motivation, she was able to find things that successful women had in common.

Plus, it showed her that there was no single formula for success. Instead, there were a number of things that could increase your chances of success.

I was really seeking stories of people who had risen up through the career ranks. And those stories really inspired me to keep going and gave me a lot of knowledge of different ways different people had approached things. And it showed me there wasn’t one formula for success… but that there were a number of different things you could do to increase your chances of getting there.

Working hard is great but if you want to work towards something else, you have to work hard strategically in those areas that will get you where you want to go.

She used these stories to build her own success story. Now, the internet has made it easier to find these inspirational success stories.

Work For Larger Company

With a large company, there are lots of different types of opportunities. It is easier to move up where there are a variety of opportunities. It can be more difficult to move up in a smaller company because there are fewer jobs open.

Even if you had to take a lower paying job to get into a larger company, it might be worth it. In a larger company, there are so many different opportunities to move up into a higher paying job. Working for a larger company also increases your opportunity for contacts and networking.

Volunteer For Special Projects

Volunteering for everything was one way that Liz moved her career forward. It is a good way to increase your skills, even if the skills have nothing to do with your current job. These skills can look great on a resume for future opportunities.

For example, Liz landed the IT job because she volunteered to work on a project with IT. She was looking at it as a break from being on the phones, but it led to connections with people that gave her the “thumb’s up” for applying for a position within their IT department.

Volunteering can be a great networking opportunity. When you work on a special project, you are typically exposed to a variety of people from around the company. You can get to know people in a natural networking way.

Related: Career Hacking: Speed Up Your Path To FI

Become A Lifelong Learner

Take opportunities to build on your skill set, even if they have nothing to do with your current job.

 Those [public speaking and presentations] were developed skills that were beneficial longer term in my career even though at the time they didn’t directly increase anything with my day to day job…but I knew that was a skill I wanted to have for later in my career even if I didn’t really know how I was going to use it.

For example, Liz joined a Toastmasters club within her company to improve her public speaking skills. Not only did she grow her skill set, but she was also able to network with others in the company.

Like many people, I didn’t have a crystal ball or picture perfect idea of what my career was going to be…In a lot of cases, I just knew I didn’t want to do what I was doing today. I wanted to do something different but didn’t really know what that something was.

Use your interests to help you achieve your goals. Liz likes to put a lot of effort into research surrounding a project. When she understands the “why,” she is able to do her assigned task on the project better.

Getting to know and understand the bigger picture of a project might not help in her day to day work, but where she has seen the benefit is in the conversations with those she works with. Knowledge helps you to grow and find other opportunities, it helps come up with good ideas that can get you promoted.

Liz also chose to pursue an MBA with a concentration in technology and international business because she found all of those topics interesting. Eventually, this led to a position in the international technology department of her organization.

So I’d say with learning, there’s just a lot of different things you can do to learn about your company, your job, your project, your industry–that will help you down the line in ways that you can’t foresee.

Related: Talent Stacking To Fast-Track FI

Work Hard Strategically

It might seem obvious, but you will have to work hard. However, it is not enough to just work hard. You also have to work strategically.

Working hard is great. But if you want to work towards something else, you have to work hard strategically in those areas that will get you where you want to go.

You should learn to be really good at what you are assigned to do every single day. That is a baseline. You should focus your efforts beyond your day-to-day and build other skills that will take you where you want to go.

Figure Out What You Should Be Paid

When Liz started her IT career with a salary of $35,000. She knew she didn’t have a lot of experience but she wasn’t aware that she was underpaid. If she had to do it over again, she would still take the job. The goal would be to get experience and continue moving forward with her career. Luckily, a new manager gave her a raise at an annual performance review because he knew that her salary was too low.

However, if she was offered the same position and salary with today’s access to information, then she would have done her homework about the salary.

There’s so much information available now…I would be doing my research online to figure out what kind of pay would be fair…especially when you are looking to switch fields.

Even if the pay is slightly below what you want, you might want to take it if you need the experience. Get some years of experience under your belt and then move on to the next level.

Learn How To Negotiate

If you are in a job negotiation, then you need to come prepared. Liz’s favorite two concepts are BATNA and ZOPA.

BATNA, or the “best alternative to a negotiated agreement”, helps you to really see what the negotiation is worth to you. If you really need to come to an agreement, then you will find a way to make it work.

ZOPA, or “zone of possible agreement”, helps you to understand where both parties are coming from. The exercise can help you find different levers to come to a collective agreement that benefits both of you.

Read up on these strategies and use them in your next negotiation!

Embrace Change

Life is never stagnant, so your career should not be either.

In my case, all the big jumps and advances in my career have involved some kind of significant change…each change has brought about new opportunities as well as in many cases, jumps in salary. So, I would say embracing change is one of the number one things you can do to advance, because in order to advance, you’re going to have to do something you are not doing right now.

As Liz grew her salary, she had to embrace new opportunities instead of avoiding them.

…if you are really open to that change and seek it out and embrace it, you’re going to be able to move up the ranks and move into different fields that will eventually get you to where you want to go.

The world is changing, so you need to keep pace with that change. Expect everything to be different in 20 years and prepare for that ahead of time. Whole new industries have been invented and created, and some old jobs have become obsolete.

If you are afraid of change or specifically try to stay within a certain comfort zone, you’re not going to be able to grow and find those opportunities. And unfortunately, the world around us will constantly change anyway. So, if we try to stay static and not change, the world WILL change. And eventually, we might find that the jobs we have don’t exist anymore or aren’t needed.

Realize that the path is not quick or easy, but it is possible. Liz started her path 20 years ago. Through strategic hard work, she has been able to grow into a lucrative position that is allowing her family to pursue Financial Independence.

I think patience is one of the key skills that you have to have, especially if you want to make a huge transformation in your life. For most of us, it will take a lot of work and a lot of time, some level of luck. And being positioned, in order to take advantage of those lucky breaks…and all of that takes time.

It is fun to read about the instant millionaires of the world, but that is not a replicable path to wealth.

If you want to get more comfortable with change, then check out Scott Adam’s book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Challenge yourself to try new things outside of your comfort zone to reach new levels of success.

How To Connect With Liz

You can find more inspirational stories in her Breadwinner Series that highlights women making 6-figures. You can reach out through her blog, Chief Mom Officer.

Also, you can connect on Twitter @lizofficer or Instagram @liz_chiefmomofficer.

Listen to the review of this episode with Brad and Jonathan here.

The Hot Seat

Favorite Blog: She Picks Up Pennies

Favorite Article: John T. Reed’s Take Down of Robert Kiyosaki from Rich Dad Poor Dad.

Favorite Life Hack: Using the library. Many libraries have more than just books. You can save so much money just by checking out your library.

Biggest Financial Mistake: Buying a motorcycle. At one point, she thought she would love riding out on the open road, but after buying the bike she realized that she does not enjoy it at all.

The advice you would give your younger self: Everything is going to be okay and you don’t have to worry so much about everything.

Bonus! What purchase have you made over the last 12 months that has brought the most value to your life? A pizza stone, although it was technically a gift, she loves it.

Related Articles

New to FI? Be sure to check out Episode 100: Welcome To The FI Community!

How To Hack Your Career And Make More Money


Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.
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